The Top 50: #45-41

The results of The Great Atari ST Game Survey continue with numbers 45 through 41…

#45 – Pirates!

Released: 1989
Developer: Microprose
Publisher: Microprose
Genre: Strategy/RPG

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Before Sid Meier became civilized, he was a pirate. No, not the hacking, software-stealing, cracktro-scroller-writing kind, but the “Har-har me hearties,” peg-leg, beard, parrot and eye-patch variety.

A wholesale conversion of the C64 original, it was a truly groundbreaking game featuring a sand-box style open-ended gameplay that snared many for hour upon hour at a time. Would you stay loyal to your country, or turn to piracy? Would you make your fortune by trading legitimately, or by hunting for buried treasure?

Set in the Caribbean during the Sixteenth century, tensions between the four colonizing countries: the Netherlands, England, France and Spain can be exploited for profit and power. Alliances will be formed and broken, and as a result, you must shift with the times, ever looking for the next opportunity to step up the next rung on the ladder.

A nice touch is the lack of definite end to a game of Pirates. Instead, your character’s fighting ability will slowly fall, and it will become harder to recruit new crewmen, forcing you to consider retirement. Upon retiring, Your performance in the game – indicated by your accumulated wealth and power – will dictate your future career: Anything from Beggar to King’s Advisor.

Mr Meier really was (is?) the master of this style of game and this, along with Civilization and Railroad Tycoon is part of a canon of superb sand-box strategy games.

#44 – Phantasie

Released: 1985
Developer: Logical Design Works Inc.
Publisher: Strategic Simulations Inc.
Genre: RPG

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“When sorcery ruled, and trolls and minotaurs still walked this Earth, a party of six intrepid adventurers set out to find the Nine Rings and use them to destroy the Dark Lord.”

Nine Rings, eh? Sounds familiar…

Your quest begins in the town of Pelinor. A quick visit to the local guild to recruit a merry band of fighters, thieves, wizards and the like, pop into the bank to use the cashpoint, spend your cash in the armoury and away you go.

After leaving Pelinor you are presented with an overhead map where you can use the cursor keys to explore the surrounding area. This is where the similarities to the Ultima series really start to show up. This isn’t just a carbon copy though, many new features can be found in this early ST RPG: Multiple attack styles, overhead dungeon views, and Town screens where you can click on the doors of the buildings to access the services on offer. Banks hold your money for you (duh…), guilds give you access to new party members, mystics can give you prophesy and armouries will sell you sharp things to poke kobolds with.

Random encounters in the game’s many dungeons trigger the game’s turn-based combat sequence, where you must choose an action for each of your characters to perform. Thankfully, your party remembers their actions and you only need to reassign if you want them to do something different or your wizard runs low on magic points.

A nice RPG with some unique qualities, deep and involving without being too complex.

#43 – Cannon Fodder

Released: 1993
Developer: Sensible Software
Publisher: Virgin Games
Genre: Real-time strategy

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War! Good God y’all, what is it good for?.. Well, for having fun, apparently.

Jon Hare’s seminal war-em-up sees you take control of a squad of soldiers armed with machine guns, grenades and rockets. Control is via the mouse, one button to issue a movement command, and the other to fire. Briefings are simple; mission goals rarely stretch beyond “Kill all enemies” or “Destroy stuff” though occasionally there are hostages to rescue. Missions provide challenges through more devious means, often requiring the player to split his squad into separate teams.

Complete a stage and the surviving troups will receive a promotion, improving their range of fire – invaluable in later, more challenging fire fights. So although there are plenty more troops available to replace casualties (literally queuing up alongside the graves of your dead men), it really hurts to see General Jops bite the bullet, leaving you with a grunt that couldn’t hit a barn door at twenty paces.

Courting controversy at the time of release amongst those mentally challenged by the concept of irony, and villified by the British Legion for using the corn poppy on the title screen (Virgin removed it from the box shortly before release), this game is worth playing just to see how touchy the press were concerning video games in the early 1990s.

Unfortunately, the ST version suffers from horrific jarring screen-flip whenever moving horizontally spoiling what would have been a great conversion. There is a nice sampled tune to listen to at the beginning, but in-game sound is minimal – tinny gunfire and strange boings when an enemy soldier is hit.

Having said all that, the simple gameplay mechanics of move and shoot, intuitively delivered by the mouse allow for incredibly fast paced action as you move and shoot in all directions independently. In later levels, you will find yourself in scrapes that have your heart pounding and your mouse ball on fire as you battle to save your veterans.

#42 – Stardust

Released: 1995
Developer: Bloodhouse
Publisher: Daze Marketing Inc.
Genre: 1995

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Stardust looks bloody amazing. For any of you who lament at how Atari dropped the ball with the ST ‘Enhanced’, this shows just how incredible the machine could be in the right hands. The game is a visual treat from the off.

Screaming demo-crew, Stardust begins with a Star Wars style intro screen that puts many official Star Wars games from the same era to shame. The use of palette shifting and the STE’s extended palette is exemplary in title screens and backdrops, and the raytraced (not real-time obviously) sprites give this game a real sheen.

Behind the gloss is a nice little Asteroids clone, that reminds me more of Blasteroids in its overall feel. Shoot asteroids and they split into smaller ones – we’ve all done it a million times, but Bloodhouse have added power-ups, a variety of new enemies and a nifty bonus level that sees your ship flying into the screen, with gameplay more akin to Tempest.

An old-school blaster ironically released towards the end of the Atari STs lifespan offers up classic and fun gameplay wrapped in copious amounts of glitter and tinsel.

#41 – Bloodwych

Released: 1989
Developer: n/a
Publisher: Image Works
Genre: RPG

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The fact that you can play Bloodwych in split-screen two-player mode lifts this dungeon crawling RPG above the glut of Dungeon Master clones that appeared after FTL’s classic.

After beginning the game, each player must choose their avatar: Warrior, Mage, Adventurer or Thief, and their colour: red, yellow, green or blue (which determines the character’s proficiency at certain spells). Once you have picked your hero, you are then free to mingle amongst the other characters, have a chat, and ask them to join your party.

You can even talk to enemies as you are exchanging blows and – with the data disk expansion – try to persuade them to join your party. Also, traders can buttered up with flattery and persuaded to lower the price of their wares.

The graphics are fine, although your viewpoint is limited to a small window even when playing alone, and the animation of NPCs is laughable, bobbing about like cardboard cut-outs on lollipop sticks. A large chunk of the challenge comes from the labyrinthine nature of the levels; identicle wall textures used throughout mean disorientation is your constant (and irritating) travelling companion. Mapping is essential (if you’re a complete geek) or find a ready made map online (if you’re not).

It may not be easy to find a friend who will indulge you in a day-long romp through Treihadwyl castle (I asked my wife but she told me to get bent) but if you have an equally RPG-obsessed friend, then you are both in for a treat.

Continue to #40-36 ->


One comment

  1. Cannon Fodder, cool.

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